Whistler DESS Project Part 1

The Whistler Athletes’ Village is home to one of the first Low Temperature District Energy Sharing Systems (DESS’s) in Canada.  Waste heat extracted from the effluent of the area’s waste water treatment plant provides an energy source for a low temperature water delivery to more than 2200 users.  This highly efficient system was implemented following several major challenges as explained below.

Whistler DESS
Source Heat Exchanger

How the DESS at Athletes’ Village works:

Water source heat pumps in the commercial space provide heating and cooling, and residential units use the system for potable hot water and space heating.  The heat pumps have a co-efficiency of performance (COP) ratio ranges from 4.2 – 3.3 for heating.   The design of the system reduces the gas (GHG) footprint by as much as 96% over that of conventional systems.


Issues with the DESS:

Our initial contact with this project began in the construction phase of the Athletes’ Centre, after the site services were completed and the commercial and residential units were more than 50% complete.

Primarily, the demand for contractors working up to the 2010 Olympic games was extremely high; with too few available contractors and skilled labourers, hiring staff capable of implementing the system was a major challenge and contributed to delays.   Additionally, the development was on a Brownsfield Site—a  former landfill site for the Whistler Municipality—and the units on that site were constructed for two purposes:

  1. Temporary housing for Olympic athletes.
  2. Subsequent conversion to commercial units.

This two-phase construction process delayed permanent occupancy until after the manufacturer warranty period had expired.  This resulted in a significant increase in costs versus single-phase construction.

After occupancy, there were, initially, frequent shutdowns of the heat pumps due to the number of built-in safety systems. In this age of social media, many complaints were made public, generating negative publicity and apprehension about the technology.  While the DESS was not the only source of complaints for the new occupants of the Athletes’ Village, the new DESS became the focal point, and the advantages of the new system were overlooked.


Many of these issues could be attributed to the rush to meet the initial construction deadline, as well as challenges that arose from using a different construction crew for the unit conversions.

Other issues and expenses incurred in the commercial sectors were a result of poor commissioning practices or—worse— no commissioning whatsoever.   Some issues were communication challenges typical to any new development:  “Whoops, I didn’t know that.”  “I thought you were looking after that.”   Sound familiar?

With new technology being applied to a high profile site that was previously a landfill, additional challenges were unavoidable.

Read in our next blog post about how we’re doing now, four years later.

Would you like to know more?

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